Just a few more minutes and I will be ready to leave for my “night shift”. I’ve got foundation caking my face, some eye makeup to bring out the blue of my eyes, concealer to mask all the scars that have developed over the years, a touch of blush to make it look like I’ve actually got some colour in my cheeks and to make it seem like I’m excited and interested, not to mention a body hugging dress, towering heels and a little lipstick for the finishing touch. There, all done.

One last look into the mirror and I should be all set to leave. But that ‘one last look’ is something I cannot bring myself to do. I am ashamed of myself. I just cannot stand the person I’ve become anymore. It is something I have struggled with since the first day of my work.

To this day, I remember what had happened three years ago, two months after I became homeless. I’ve been in and out of odd jobs like meat cutting, cleaning houses, distributing pamphlets on the streets and many more that were less than respectable.

But, one day, an overly dressed lady walked up to me, and said “I can put an end to all your problems.”  All I wanted to do was laugh at her but when I looked at her face, I could tell she was dead serious and meant business.

To be truthful, I was tired of finding a different chore to do every day, so I stood up and asked her how she could possibly do that. She squared her shoulders and said “Well, you’re pretty. With the right dress and make-up, you’d make a perfect stripper.”

When I told her that I couldn’t be one as I have always lacked mind to body co-ordination, she just smiled and said “Good, I have something better for you then. Come with me.”

I followed her to a tiny apartment where she spent hours “grooming” me, whispering things like “we’ve not had such a pretty one in a long time” , “they are going to love you”, “you are going to make me so proud.”

After I was groomed to her satisfaction, she told me to stay in her apartment and wait for her to come back. And, wait I did. When she returned, she had a man accompanying her. She smiled to him and said, “Freshly caught. All yours for the night.”

I shudder at the flashback and find tears pooling in my eyes. No, I tell myself, this is not the time to cry. Nobody would want a blotchy eyed, mascara stained, blue eyed harridan for the night.

As I walk towards the door, I realise that it will be a chilly night.  I briefly contemplate putting on my coat but then decide against it- the more I reveal, the better I get paid. Strutting through the street, I find my “colleagues” waving and winking at me, telling me that I will surely get laid. I roll my eyes- as if things ever happened otherwise.

I take my spot on the street, one that hasn’t changed in three years, and silently pray for my client to be a relatively nice person, not one that bruises and beats me up for pleasure. Believe me, there were instances I’d return home with split lips and bruised limbs and swollen cheeks and eyes.

“Hey, pretty face! You look hot!”, a friend from across the street calls out. I acknowledge with a brief wave. Pretty face. That’s all I am. That’s all I will ever be.

My pimp calls me ‘gorgeous’, my colleagues call me ‘pretty face’, my clients call me ‘siren’, the society calls me a ‘harlot’, but, I call myself  ‘ Minerva’. Ironic, isn’t it? Being named after the goddess of wisdom and not having any of my own in my miserable life.

“Hey, beautiful! Wanna come with? I’d pay you a hundred and fifty bucks”, asks a man who smells like too many cigarettes and alcohol. Don’t get involved with drunkards, Minerva, I tell myself; no matter how much they pay. Before I could say no, he grabs me by the arm and says “I’ve got a little place nearby. Let’s go.”

The way he held my arm told me a lot about him and also a lot about my morning tomorrow. He is an inflictor of pain. This will be a rough night.

And a rough night it was. He had used his belt eighteen times, fists and palms a good twenty three times and also kicked me until I lost count. When he finally let me go, I was bruised from head to toe, barely able to stand, let alone walk.

I reached home at five in the morning, only to find my pimp waiting for me at my door step. She panics when she sees me all bruised and says “Who’s going to want a bruised woman?”

I am seriously appalled at her comment.  I’ve barely made it out alive, grabbing my shoes and purse and the bills he threw at me, and here she is all fired up and worried because I won’t have a lay for a few weeks at least.

I furiously rummage through my purse, find the bills and throw them at her face and yell, “Well, I hope that’s enough for this week, if not, get out on the streets yourself and be me for a few nights” before walking into my home.

I try to dress my wounds, but they ache way too much. I’d rather cry first and then try to dress them. I make an attempt to sit but no, I can’t. I’m too sore. I just fall limply onto the bed, ignoring the searing pain that is coursing through every vein of my body, and start to cry.

I don’t know how long I cried for or what time of the day it was, but I do know one thing for sure. I have to get away. I’ve been meaning to for a long time, but somehow, I couldn’t muster the courage to do that. But this was the last straw, the final act. I’ve had enough.

But, where do I go to? I can’t run away and be homeless again. This time around, nobody will even give me a job because they will know I was a prostitute. I can’t leave town. I don’t have the money. I just can’t shake off the heavy weight of living. So what do I do? I can’t fight it anymore.

It’s like I have an albatross around my neck, constantly pulling me down. I’ve fought against it for three years, but I can’t anymore. My only option now is to give up and give in. God knows I’ve made mistakes, terrible ones too, but He must also know I cannot do anything but quit. And that is what I did.

Clenched fists, a bloodied knife, an open vein, a running tap, giddy surroundings, closed eyes and finally, peace, solace, and serenity.

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